But I am quadriplegic.
This means that without these devices I would be unable to control my house the way I do, because of the moment I have about 4 Amazon echoes, Google home and various other ways of monitoring me (and controlling the house). It really really chaps my arse to have to give up this much personal information to be able to control my house, but I honestly don't see another way of squaring the circle.
Not directly related to the article, just a perspective I thought some of you might find interesting.
Edited to add: When I say I hate these articles, what I meant was not that they shouldn't be written because I think they are very valuable. I meant that they make me feel sad about the current state of surveillance on the Internet.
So I too dislike articles like this, the title is misleading and the text was not compelling.
But I have absolutely no idea how to convey the simple idea to people that are not in the tech world that "if it's connected to the Internet, don't consider it private", which I'd love to be proved wrong about but I really don't think I am.
The Alexa works in a crowded environment because it has directional microphones and facing the Alexa makes a big difference.
The Google Home assistant does differentiate requests based on voice pattern, but from my testing it actually only analyzes the word "Google". So person A can say "Okay", person B can say "Google", and person C can say "What's the weather?" and the Google Home will recognize person B (this might have changed since I did my testing, so don't quote me on that).
All this said, yeah of course any company can spy on you, and honestly Alexa is the least of your concerns. Laptops have 1-2 microphones built in. Phones have 3+ microphones. A lot of monitors and "smart" TVs come with microphones. Your intercom system can be wired into, and you can most likely hack into digitally based ones as well. Don't even get me started on IoT devices from non-IT companies.
A lot of malicious things can be done with technology today, but Alexa is most likely the safest device of the examples I gave. So yes – stay vigilant – but don't ignore the more obvious vulnerabilities in your home.
† There are some examples that prove we will be able to get there eventually (like Honda's ASIMO which has a demo of three people asking for different things at the same time), but nothing of the like has been seen in uncontrolled/noisy environments.
1) Bleeding edge algorithms that can not only separate multiple speakers in parallel on a small device, but also transcode them and track their identities over periods of time and report back.
2) Alexa does exactly what it says on the bin because Amazon already extrapolated everything they need to know about you (including whether you have a teenage daughter who is pregnant) from your last 3 text searches.
Also see this relevant comic:
Now I may sound defeatist but this is not my intention. Like I said you should stay vigilant, but this article is barking up the wrong tree and may in fact distract from the real dangers in mass surveillance and tracking. Those dangers are far more primitive, yet effective, than you might think.
This article could be correct in 1 or 2 revs of all these devices. Which makes sense in our superscalar universe.
this is overstating the case. if you don’t believe me, have two people speak at an Echo simultaneously.
multi-speaker babble is still a major challenge in speech recognition, and speaker identification is equally hard and unsolved.
i still won’t buy one, but it’s important to be reasonable.
What I presume it's actually doing is responding to the keyword, Alexa in this case, and somehow correlating the rest of the question to the voice that said the keyword. I don't happen to know what criteria it uses to do that but it's clearly doing that or something a lot like it.
That's much less dystopian than voiceprinting the family.
It's certainly how _i_ solved the problem when I wrote a SR system ...
However, this line of reasoning can be refuted all the way down to being impossible to prove/disprove. For example, there is reasonably an audio processing chip in Alexa that does always-on keyword listening, and it's possible it could track breadcrumbs over time (e.g., voice fingerprints, triggering keywords like "bomb", etc). This data can then be interlaced with innocuous data, for example inside an access token (opaque blob used to identify on whose behalf the Alexa is making requests). That would make it virtually impossible to find even if you had full access to the network traffic.
Anyway, when it comes to these things I like to take an Occam's razor approach. There's a great number of things a company can do to spy on you, but most likely when it comes to mass surveillance it's easier to tap into more obvious sources of data like your browsing history from the ISP, your phone line, Facebook/Google tracking data. In fact, I'd be more scared of say Facebook's and Google's voice assistants than Amazon or Apple because the latter two don't depend as much on consumer identity as a business.
EDIT: Another thing that just came to my mind. Even when you analyze network traffic and observe that traffic only occurs during your queries (i.e. in the seconds after the hotword is uttered), that doesn't mean that the Echo won't use the opportunity to send some previously-recorded audio to the server together with the current recording. In the same way that clever hackers disguise themselves by having their network traffic mimic the shape and direction of legitimate network traffic.
Now, there is some security basis
>Uncovering Spoken Phrases in Encrypted Voice over IP Conversations
However, if you don't mind potentially destroying your echo, I'm sure you could reverse engineer a way to see what's going on.
A home assistant on the other hand is always on, listening and profiling its vicinity. So there is a large difference, not if you're under attack but rather if you are not at that moment.
I guess people are just more aware of the fact that home assistants listen to everything, so they associate a greater danger with those. Also, everyone is of interest in the eyes of advertising/data collection companies.
That's the key, though - Echo/Home are listening passively, by design. Your phone is listening actively, but can be activated remotely to listen passively if you are the target of surveillance by a state actor.
As it gets cheaper and easier to retain and analyze the output of the former the bar for the latter decreases.
I really don't want to get flagged for the "random" searches and audits every time in interact with a government service in 2020 just because the way I talk checks the proper subset of boxes for some AI to set the "probably doesn't like us" bool on my row to true.
This sort of presentation makes for nice kindling but unfortunately not much more. In the end, your voice is unfortunately 'public'.
There is no difference between this and muttering too loudly. If someone hears you asking the voices in your head to quiet down, you would not think to blame them for violating your privacy by listening.
Eventually we will all have to re-assess what we accept businesses, government, and private parties knowing and doing with what we say. It is also a reminder that what we do (our body motions) will be up next for recording and analysis as motion, cameras, and facial recognition become more prevalent (iphone X).
What's preventing you from doing the same with USB 3.1 or lightning headphones?
I'm waiting for someone to create an open source hardware device that talks to the Alexa API. Then you can be sure what text or audio it is sending.
Same deal right? Always-on microphone constantly polling an audio signal?
What is you stance on your own freedom and independence and those of others around you, who might have not want large parts of their lives digitized and centrally analyzed.
See, because it's one thing if you upload your own data and have it analyzed to your heart's content, I think you should be free to do that. But another to do it with unsuspecting strangers, it's infringing on my freedom not to have that done to me.